Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

RJ Luis’ career night pushes UMass over Richmond

Luis scores 23 in bounce-back win
Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

In his first start since the second game of the season, true freshman RJ Luis put up 23 points in a career night to help the Massachusetts men’s basketball team overcome Richmond at home on Wednesday, 85-76.

Luis is one of the Atlantic 10’s most prolific freshmen so far this season. With his stellar performance against Tyler Burton’s Spiders (11-10, 4-4 A-10) he scored in double digits for the sixth game in a row, with an average of 14.5 points per game during the stretch. The 6-foot-7-inch guard stepped up in a big way for the Minutemen (12-8, 3-5 A-10) in the absence of star guard Noah Fernandes, out-duelling Burton – one of the conference’s best players – in the process.

“It’s really exciting because RJ works really hard, seeing him put as many hours in the gym, he’s earned that so I’m really happy for him,” UMass center Wildens Leveque said.

In 35 minutes Luis did it all, adding seven rebounds and five assists to one turnover to his scoring, shooting 9-for-10 from the free throw line. The Minutemen’s exciting new face had the composure at the line to close out the game, from beyond the arc to hit big threes and on defense to stay on the court with four fouls.

But with foul trouble and increased responsibility on offense, it can be hard to guard the A-10’s third leading scorer in Burton and a tricky Princeton-style offense as a freshman.

“If I still had hair, I’d tell you that I was going to pull my hair out with him defensively,” Martin said. “But I don’t have hair, so I can’t pull it out so I’ve got to let him play. RJ is a great kid, man. Being a freshman, like he’s guarding Burton, who’s a fifth-year senior, and RJ is a true freshman. And he’s fighting his tail off, but it’s like every other freshman – listening – it’s hard to grow if information doesn’t get inside your ears, and he’s going through that stage right now… He’s an awesome kid, he’s a talented kid.”

“Honestly, it’s different at the college level, having four fouls it gets a little tricky,” Luis said of balancing aggressiveness in foul trouble. “Just trying to stay in front, and then not use your hand and slide your feet, really.”

The last six games for Luis saw him jump to second place in the A-10’s freshman scoring leaderboard with 10.1 points per game.

An impressive aspect of Luis’ performance that he didn’t show before Wednesday was his passing ability off the dribble. He’s struggled with turnovers at times this season, but showed encouraging ability to take care of the ball while executing difficult passes on the pick and roll. That, along with an ease to draw fouls and a knock-down jumper, made him unstoppable all night. His five assists tied a career high.

His shot from beyond the 3-point line has been steady all season and ranks second in the team at 41.4 percent. He shot 2-for-6 from deep against the Spiders, but both makes came up big for UMass.

The first one was also the first basket of the contest and sparked an 8-0 run for the hosts, of which he scored five points. The second make stopped a 7-0 Richmond run and tied the game with four minutes left. He then scored four straight points in the final minute to help the Minutemen put the game away.

Luis came through when needed and drove UMass forward in a back-and-forth game, going shot-for-shot with the Spiders.

“RJ made a three – I was going to choke him [for a mistake] – but give him credit, they didn’t guard him and he said, ‘really?’ and he popped up and shot it,” Martin said. “You got to have courage to make plays, but you can’t be a hero and break away from your team discipline. I thought today, the harder the harder the game got, the closer we got together.”

Since the first game of the season, it’s been clear how much Martin cares about Luis, as the freshman is one of the players Martin yells the most at.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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